‘Uncle Boonmee’ is a completely impenetrable, utterly infuriating bitch of a film. I have seen many weird pieces of cinema in my time, from ‘Last Year In Marienbad’ to ‘Synecdoche, New York’, but nothing has alienated me quite like this managed to. It has to be asked, in all sincerity, who exactly sits on the Jury at Cannes that awarded this nonsense the Palme d’Or? It is films like ‘Uncle Boonmee’ that give arthouse cinema a bad name. Absolutely no amount of appreciation of Buddhist thought, Thai custom or understanding of avant-garde philosophy could prepare you for this ‘film’. The script can’t be much longer than ten pages, and the soundtrack and story are practically non-existent. It’s just absolutely insane, and for all the wrong reasons.
Other than this, there is little left to say. What can possibly be said about a film that gives you a family dinner turning into an encounter with a monkey spirit, who turns up casually claiming to be Boonmee’s son reincarnated – something he accepts with relative ease. How are you supposed to react to a scene showing a woman having underwater sex with a catfish in the middle of Thailand’s wilderness? (Yes, you read right). The film is just a series of balmy accounts of past lives, and not a single one of them comes anywhere close to being comprehensible or signalling any type of meaning.
Parisian critics were appalled despite the Cannes endorsement, and rightly so. Despite seeing ‘Uncle Boonmee’ at the London Film Festival, and thus watching the film at its British premiere, I wasn’t surprised in the slightest when the couple sitting in front of me walked out after an hour. Consider just for a second what this means, because it takes a particular kind of audience to pay £17.50 per ticket to see something this obscure at Leicester Square. And yet even then, there were people that couldn’t hack sitting through the whole thing.
Director Apichatpong, or Joe as he likes to be called over here, said before the film started that he had just flown over from Spain, and there they had considered his film to be a ‘rock and roll’ movie. I’m not quite sure what that means, but intuitively the description is pretty damn absurd. He’s got to be having a laugh here. I decided early on that if the audience clapped at the end – as it is apparently common to do at premiers – then I had been sitting amongst a bunch of phonies. Fortunately, they declined that expected nicety. The joke was on Cannes, but it looks like very few others are falling for it.